Leadership Lessons from Confucius: getting into the zone

in the zone

Confucius asked Gongming Jia about Gongshu Wenzi: “Is it true that your master never spoke, laughed, nor took anything?” Gongming Jia replied: “Whoever told you this exaggerated. My master spoke, but only at the right time, and so no one ever thought he spoke too much; he laughed, but only when he was happy, and so no one ever thought that he laughed too much; he took things, but only when it was right, and so no one ever thought that he took too much.” Confucius said: “How commendable! Assuming of course it is true.”
子問「公叔文子」於公明賈,曰:「信乎?夫子不言不笑不取乎?」公明賈對曰:「以告者過也!夫子時然後言,人不厭其言;樂然後笑,人不厭其笑;義然後取,人不厭其取。」子曰:「其然!豈其然乎?」

How to get yourself into the zone when everything you say, do, and touch turns to gold? Even the greatest athletes and artists in the world only manage to achieve a state of peak performance on the rarest of occasions. For most of the time, they are busy fine-tuning their skills, bodies, and minds in preparation for that magical moment when they hit the perfect home run or create their masterpiece.

The same principle applies to all aspects of life. Getting into the zone requires rigorous self-cultivation and self-reflection so that you are totally at ease with yourself and the environment around you. No wonder Confucius is so surprised to hear that Gongshu Wenzi had achieved such a heightened state. Even the sage himself didn’t claim to have reached this state until the age of seventy (see 2.4).

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 13 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) Gongshu Wenzi (Gongshu the Cultured) was the posthumous title given to Gongsun Ba/Gongsun Zhu, a highly respected minister of Wei and a son of its ruler Duke Xian. Despite his doubts of Gongming Jia’s claims about his master, Confucius agrees in 14.18 that Gongshu deserved this honor.

(2) Gongming Jia was a high-ranking official of the state of Wei, who presumably also worked as a retainer for Gongshu Wenzi.

I took the top image at the Zhusi Academy in Qufu. Confucius is said to have taught his students here after returning to Lu from exile in in 848 BCE, as well as compiling the Book of Songs, Book of History, Book of Rites, Book of Music, and Book of Changes. You can read more about the Zhusi Academy here.

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